ALL YOU ZOMBIES, ROBERT HEINLEIN

Time travel makes my brain go “eek.” This is a compliment. Not many things make my brain do backflips and somersaults. Time travel is an impossible concept I cannot understand because it is inherently incomprehensible. Therefore, I love it.

This review contains spoilers, so if you’ve never read this, you might want to stop now and allow yourself to be surprised.

I first read this story by Robert Heinlein long ago as part of a compilation of his classic short stories. After all these years, it remains on the top of the heap of time travel tales. I couldn’t remember its title, so it took me a while to find it. It is called “All You Zombies.”

Heinlein All You Zombies

In a strange infinite loop, a baby girl is mysteriously dropped off at an orphanage in Cleveland in 1945. “Jane” grows up lonely and dejected, not knowing who her parents are, until one day in 1963 she is strangely attracted to a drifter. She has a brief passionate relationship with him and becomes pregnant.

The stranger disappears.

During a weird and complicated birthing, Jane’s doctors discover she actually has two complete sets of sex organs. With her life on the line, the doctors change her from female to male. Jane is now a man. Then …. a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby leaving Jane a man and childless.

Depressed, lost, he becomes a drunk and a drifter. He eventually, meets a young woman in a bar, who he impregnates during a brief affair. The story contains even more complexities, involving the Time Corps and a bartender. Throughout, everything continues moving forward and backward in time.

Read it, and get your own brain in a twist.

The story is a paradox, impossible yet structured with its own internal logic that you can neither reject nor accept. At which point, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone. Everyone is Jane. She is her family: tree, trunk, branches and roots.

I found this amazing diagram on the Heinlein Society’s web page. They have lots of other cool stuff too and if you’re a fan, take a look. You won’t be disappointed.

all-you-zombies-heinlein-time-twisterThe circular logic combined with the impossibility of the sequence where the same person is mother, father, and child forever in an infinite loop — the snake eating its tail — is deliciously mind-blowing. You can get it for your Kindle from Amazon for $1.25, or as part of an anthology of Heinlein short stories. There are several listed on Amazon, new and used.

Heinlein did much of his most creative writing in these early short stories. His later novels are better known today, especially Stranger In a Strange Land. The short stories have been forgotten by many people, but are well worth your time. Most were written for the science fiction fanzines — newsprint magazines that were the primary outlets for sci-fi until the genre broke into mainstream literature in the 1960s. Not only Heinlein, but all the classic great science fiction authors started their careers writing for the fanzines.

I’ve read many hundreds of time travel books and stories over more than 50 years of loving science fiction. But this one, this story, has stuck firmly in my brain as the ultimate paradox where the past, present, and future come together.

All You Zombies is my favorite for good reason. It’s unforgettable. I promise you will never forget it either.

ROBERT HEINLEIN – WALDO AND MAGIC, INC.

I’m always surprise at how many people have not read these two novellas at all, or read them, but completely missed the point. Some readers apparently can’t see any connection between the two stories. They apparently believe the two novellas are in one volume “to fill up space.” Since this is among my favorite stories in science fiction, allow me to remind everyone how good Heinlein was in his prime..

heinlein waldo magic inc cover

Originally published by Doubleday in 1950, Heinlein’s point was that all technology is a based on our belief that it will work. As long as we believe in it, all is well. If or when we cease believing, it will cease working. Everything is magic.

The stories proceed from that axiom. Humans lose faith in technology. Magic jumps into the void left by vanished technology …  and becomes technology. The difference between one and the other is effectively nonexistent.

I read these books at least 50 years ago. I hadn’t read them since, but remembered them. I bought them for Kindle and was glad to re-acquaint myself with them.

These were unique and original concepts when they were first introduced in the 1940s. They were still original 25 years later when I read them. They aren’t stale today, more than 60 years after the stories first publication.

The best science fiction is concept-driven. The ideas in these two novellas have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both are based on a single concept: we believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

“Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world.” — Robert Heinlein

Available on Kindle, in paperback and from Audible.com.

PROCASTINATION – IT’S EARLIER WHEN YOU THINK

Procrastination? It’s not procrastination. Uh uh. It’s enjoying the freedom of unharnessed time. For long time-faceyears, I too was scheduled. Always short of time, but never late. Never missed a deadline. Always left the house early in case I encountered traffic. I used up my time making sure to have enough time.

But time is all in our heads. There’s always time and there’s always no time at all. I put off what isn’t critical, do what must be done now, and the rest? I’ll have another cup of coffee and a Danish, please.

I call and change appointments when I don’t feel like going. If traffic piles up? I’m late. I say “Oops, sorry. Hit some traffic.” The world keeps spinning. No one takes out a pistol and shoots me. Yet.

In the immortal words of Robert Heinlein’s Time Travel Corps from All You Zombies —

Never Do Yesterday What Should Be Done Tomorrow

If At Last You Do Succeed, Never Try Again

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine Billion

A Paradox May be Paradoctored

It is Earlier When You Think

Ancestors Are Just People

Even Jove Nods.

Priorities are important. I’ll get my leaky valve fixed. In time. I’ll get that book review written. Tomorrow. I’ll process some more of the pictures we took yesterday … later. After coffee. After I read, write and think a while.

There will be time. For the important stuff. Maybe there won’t be time for other things and, well … they just won’t get done. Because my hurrying days are done.

MAGIC IS EVERYWHERE – THREE QUOTES, DAY THREE

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world. – Robert Heinlein, “Waldo”

I’m astonished how many people have either never read these two novellas, or read them and manged to miss the point.

If you haven’t read them, you really should, if you are any kind of science fiction fan. They are fundamental to the mythology of science fiction. The concepts Heinlein posits have become axiomatic to later writers.

"Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942." Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942
“Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942.” Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – Waldo Astounding SF Aug 1942

Many readers — I take this from the reviews I’ve read by people who say they have indeed read the two novellas — apparently don’t see a connection between the stories. They think they are in one volume “to fill up space.” Either they didn’t really read them or they are conceptually challenged, unable to connect two related ideas.

The point is that technology is a based on our belief it will work (see Clarke’s Three Laws). As long as we believe in it, it works, whatever “it” may be. If or when we stop believing, it won’t work. It is all magic. Science is incantation. Witchcraft codified.

When we lose faith in technology, magic becomes the new technology. The difference between one and the other is style, not substance. The stories’ plots are irrelevant. It is all concept.

The best science fiction is concept-driven. Characters and plot usually take a back seat. These two stories have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both are based on a single concept.

We believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

ALL TECHNOLOGY IS MAGIC — WALDO AND MAGIC, INC.

waldo and magic incI’m astonished how many people have read these two novellas and miss the point. Some readers apparently can’t see any connection between the two stories. They think these novellas are in a single volume by a fluke or “to fill up space.” Either they didn’t really read them or they are conceptually challenged, unable to make a logical leap between two related ideas without a flow chart.

The point is that technology is a based on our belief it will work. As long as we believe in it, it functions. If or when we stop believing, it won’t. It’s all magic.

When we lose faith in technology, magic jumps in and becomes the new technology. The difference between one and the other is functionally negligible. The stories’ plots are irrelevant. It’s the concept that counts.

I read these books about 50 years ago. I haven’t read them since, but remember them. Meanwhile, I can’t remember the plot of whatever book I read last week. These were original concepts when first introduced in the 1940s, was still original 25 years later when I read it. Probably still original today, more than 60 years after the stories were first published.

The best science fiction is concept-driven rather than character or plot-driven. These two have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both novellas are based on a unified concept: We believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world.

Available on Kindle, in paperback and from Audible.com.

WALDO AND MAGIC, INC., ROBERT HEINLEIN

waldo and magic incI’m astonished how many people have read these two novellas and miss the point. Some readers apparently can’t see any connection between the two stories. They think these novellas are in a single volume by a fluke or “to fill up space.” Either they didn’t really read them or they are conceptually challenged, unable to make a logical leap between two related ideas without a flow chart.

The point is that technology is a based on our belief it will work. As long as we believe in it, it functions. If or when we stop believing, it won’t. It’s all magic.

When we lose faith in technology, magic jumps in and becomes the new technology. The difference between one and the other is functionally negligible. The stories’ plots are irrelevant. It’s the concept that counts.

I read these books about 50 years ago. I haven’t read them since, but remember them. Meanwhile, I can’t remember the plot of whatever book I read last week. These were original concepts when first introduced in the 1940s, was still original 25 years later when I read it. Probably still original today, more than 60 years after the stories were first published.

The best science fiction is concept-driven rather than character or plot-driven. These two have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both novellas are based on a unified concept: We believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world.

Available on Kindle, in paperback and from Audible.com.

YOUTH IN FREEFALL — THE DUKE OF URANIUM, JOHN BARNES

DUKE OF URANIUM COVERIn a future a few thousand years from now, Jak Jinnaka and his pals are having a grand old time. Partying hearty and ignoring everything he’s supposed to be learning at school, he hasn’t spent any time or effort thinking about the future. Any future, but especially his own. His got a great best friend, a gorgeous girlfriend and no responsibilities.

But that ends abruptly the day his girlfriend, Sesh, is kidnapped. He’s beaten senseless and  discovers the world is nothing like he thought it was.

It’s a brand new reality. The beautiful, free-wheeling party girl Sesh is Princess Shyf of Greenworld, heiress and only daughter of the rulers of a powerful kingdom. Jak’s Uncle Sib is not merely the kindly old guy who controls the family money, but a legendary spymaster. Now, it appears Jak is about to enter the family business with no training or time to think about possible repercussions.

It’s the first book in a new series obviously aimed at a teen audience. As was Harry Potter, so I didn’t consider its youthful skew an obstacle to enjoyment. I did sometimes find it a bit young for me … but I also found it witty and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Barnes’ observations on society and culture is razor-sharp.

The characters are fun and interesting. They grow and change, something I always appreciate in a book. This was promoted as being along the lines of Heinlein’s young adult literature, but Barnes writes nothing like Heinlein. I like Heinlein — that’s not true. I love Heinlein. But I like Barnes too. You don’t need to lure me with promises of “another Heinlein.” I don’t need the incentive. I’d read it anyhow.

The book takes a long time to catch fire. Barnes has created a world and needs to explain it. I’d prefer he showed us more and told us less because the book plods for the first half. After that, it takes off and steps out lively.

Not only has Barnes invented a world, but he’s invented a language. It uses a lot of words that are sort of English, but not really. We’re supposed to figure out what they mean by context and mostly, I did. Eventually. It would have been easier if he had included a short glossary or footnoted the words or … just used English. I don’t think the unfamiliarity of the language added anything but confusion.

That being said, I enjoyed the book. It dragged  in the beginning, but the end was fast with plenty of action. Predictable? I didn’t think it was all that predictable … no more than any other book of this type I’ve read. It has a lot of potential as a series and I’ll be interested to see where Barnes takes it.